x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Jackets need a new fit

Columbus have been plagued by misfortune, and Sam McCaig cannot see it ending anytime soon.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have only made the play-offs once in 10 seasons.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have only made the play-offs once in 10 seasons.

Columbus, we have a problem. The Blue Jackets are bad. Very, very bad.

They are bad now, they were bad last season and they have basically been bad since the franchise came into existence in 2000.

The Jackets have made the play-offs once in 10 seasons, getting swept out of the first round by Detroit in 2009.

And they will not be able to accomplish even an inglorious post-season exit this year, because the play-offs are a far off dream for this hard luck team. A last-place finish and a lottery draft pick are much more realistic scenarios.

Goodness knows, though, they are trying.

Scott Howson, the general manager, pulled off a blockbuster trade in the summer, adding Jeff Carter, the former Philadelphia sniper. Howson also brought in James Wisniewski to quarterback the power play and stabilise the defence.

But Wisniewski missed the first eight games of the regular season - all losses - due to a pre-season suspension, and Carter has missed all but five games with a broken foot.

The defence corps, to put it nicely, is underwhelming. Steve Mason continues to struggle badly in the net, and the back-up options are inexperienced (Allen York) or well past their prime (Curtis Sanford, who had not played in the NHL since 2009).

To cut a long story short, anything that could go wrong in Columbus has gone wrong and continues to go wrong. The Jackets won just two of their first 15 games. They have lost by three or more goals five times, including a 9-2 debacle against Philadelphia in which they trailed 5-0 after the first period and 8-0 after the second.

Columbus surrendered 59 goals in 15 games (about four per contest and last in the NHL) while scoring 34 times (about 2.25 per game, 25th in the NHL).

Somehow, Howson and Scott Arniel, the coach, have retained their jobs throughout the team's horrid start.

The thinking is, the Jackets have not had their "real" team together yet as Carter and Wisniewski have not been healthy at the same time.

And Kristian Huselius, one of the team's few legitimate top-six forwards, tore his pectoral muscle in September and will probably not return until March.

By then, the Jackets will presumably be so far out of the play-off race that Huselius could be the second coming of Wayne Gretzky and it would not matter. Rick Nash is one of the few things Columbus have got right - drafting the goal-scoring power winger first overall in 2002 - but there has even been suggestions that the Jackets should trade him for prospects and draft picks; effectively, start afresh all over again.

That is a tough pill to swallow for a franchise that has endured a decade of frustration, but it might be the only way out.

sports@thenational.ae